Woman Develops Lactating Mass in Her Armpit After Giving Birth

  • Ah, the wonders of pregnancy.

Pregnancy is a special time for a woman, with her body undergoing many changes to prepare for childbirth. But sometimes those changes go a bit too far.

Take, for example, this 26-year-old new mother from Portugal. Her bizarre case was documented in the New England Journal of Medicine on July 29.

Two days after giving birth to her child, the woman — who remains unnamed to preserve her privacy — started feeling a pain in her right armpit. When the pain didn’t subside, she went to see the doctors at the Hospital de Santa Maria in Lisbon.

When the doctors examined her armpit, they discovered what they described as “a round mass.” We’d imagine that, at that point, alarm bells about cancer started going off in everyone’s heads.

Luckily for the woman, cancer was quickly ruled out. Doctors figured out it was something else when they gave the mass a squeeze.

That’s when it started lactating.

Photo courtesy of the New England Journal of Medicine.

Little Miracles of Nature

Based on breastmilk coming out of places where breasts shouldn’t be, the doctors diagnosed the woman with a condition called polymastia. In plainer terms, that means the woman has extra breast tissue in her body.

The condition is rare, but not unheard of. According to research, around 5% of women develop polymastia before they’re born.

Polymastia gets its beginnings during fetal development, when the cells that eventually turn into mammary glands form along the mammary ridge. This is a line that runs alongside a woman’s body on both sides from the armpits to the crotch.

During normal development, the mammary ridge disappears, leaving developing breast tissue only in the chest area. Sometimes, though, things don’t go according to plan.

The proto-mammary cells can remain in other parts of the body, usually in the armpits. There, they continue to develop until they form a superfluous lump of breast tissue, like in the Portuguese woman’s case.

These extra breasts usually go undetected until the woman gets pregnant and gives birth. That’s when they start oozing breastmilk.

In even rare cases, however, the development can proceed even further. In some women, the extra breast tissue even develops a nipple and an areola.

Some women have been able to breastfeed their babies from these superfluous mammaries. Others don’t feel comfortable enough to do that, but they will pump the extra breast to relieve discomfort.

We don’t know whether the Portuguese woman was able to do that.

The Vagina Breast

But remember how we said that the extra breast tissue can sometimes develop in places other than the armpits? Good, because we also found a fantastic example of just such a case.

This case happened to a 29-year-old Austrian woman. After giving birth to her second child, she soon developed swelling and a severe pain on the right side of her, uh… Lady bits.

So, she was off to see the doctor. Much of the swelling was in area where she had received sutures, so the doctor initially thought that she’d developed an abscess.

But you already know what it actually was, right? And the doctors figured it out soon, as well.

The woman went back to the hospital when, after four days of giving birth, the area started oozing a strange, milky white liquid. Of course, that was breast milk, and the woman had an axillary breast in her vagina.

An ultrasound confirmed that this was the case. The swelling in her vagina area looked exactly like lactating breast tissue.

The cause of the painful swelling was that the sutures were blocking the extra breast’s excretory duct. That’s the orifice where the milk comes out, if you didn’t figure that out yet.

The doctors removed one of the sutures, and the woman’s vagina breast drained immediately. With that, her pain also disappeared like magic.

Again, we don’t know whether this woman would’ve been able to feed her child from the extra breast. But we’re going to bet and/or hope that the thought never crossed anyone’s mind.

Cancer Risk

Lucky for both of these women, their strange growths weren’t cancerous. Polymastia is a completely benign condition, and will usually only cause discomfort during pregnancy and after childbirth.

However, the tissue in the extra breasts is still breast tissue. That means it can develop breast cancer, just like the primary breasts.

For this reason, doctors recommend that women with polymastia do regular checks for unusual lumps on the extra breast tissue. If they’re unable to it themselves, they should visit a doctor for regular checkups.

What we’re saying is, don’t ignore that lump. It could get lumpier, and nobody wants that.